< A version of this article was published in the September 2017 issue of Downeast Dog News>
< Updated 14SEP17 >
< UPDATED – 3SEP17 – All three parts of this series have been compiled into a single article at http://bit.ly/DoesDogBreedMatter >
This is part three of a three-part series on the importance of understanding your dog’s breed and what they were bred to do before selecting a dog. That understanding is critical to making sure you get the perfect dog that we all seek. In July I discussed AKC Herding and Hound groups and in August I looked at the Non-Sporting, Sporting, Terrier, and Toy groups. This month I will address the AKC Working Group and Mixed Breed dogs.
Working Group – “Dogs of the Working Group were bred to perform such jobs as guarding property, pulling sleds and performing water rescues. They have been invaluable assets to man throughout the ages. …Their considerable dimensions and strength alone, however, make many working dogs unsuitable as pets for average families. And again, by virtue of their size alone, these dogs must be properly trained.1”
If you look at the top 10 list for dogs in the US you will find these breeds from the Working group; Rottweiler (#8) and Boxer (#10). Other popular breeds in this group include the Siberian Husky (#12), Great Dane (#14), Doberman Pinscher (#15), Bernese Mountain Dog (#27),Newfoundland (#35), and others2.
Like the Non-Sporting group, the breeds in the Working group are so diverse that discussing them as a group is not helpful. For that reason, I recommend that anyone considering a dog from this group talk to breeders as well as veterinarians, trainers, kennel and daycare owners about the particular breeds that interest you. Always make sure you seek advice from those with no financial gain in the breed that you choose.
The dogs in the Working group were bred for a wide variety of purposes. The livestock guarding dogs were historically bred in the fields with the animals that they are supposed to protect. They are independent and naturally suspicious of all but the flock they guard and a few people. The Northern breeds in this group; Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, and Samoyed love the cold and snow and find the heat uncomfortable.
Other factors to consider with the breeds in the Working group are their size and strength. Can you safely handle a dog this big? Are you physically able or do you have a plan to lift them and carry them should the need arise? Are you committed to training the dog? A dog from the working group can be an excellent choice if your lifestyle is compatible with what they need to thrive. If you have other dogs in your life, you need to consider the difference in size between the dogs. The play between a large dog in from the Working group and a toy breed will need to be carefully supervised.
We care for many dogs in the Working Group, primarily Boxers, Great Danes, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Mastiffs. They all do well, and we enjoy seeing them; however, they each have very individual personalities, so it is important that we take the time to get to know them well.
The most important consideration when getting a dog is their temperament and personality. While both vary in any breed, when choosing a pure-bred puppy or dog you can look to the breed for a highly probable predictor of what you will get. The same cannot be said of mixed breeds.
Mixed Breeds or Mutts
Fifty-percent of the dogs in the US are mixed breeds. I know from personal experience, with my own mixed breeds as well as the many that we care for at Green Acres, that mixed breeds can be marvelous companions. However, when getting a mixed breed, it can be problematic because you do not always know what you are getting. Knowing what breeds make up your mixed breed is difficult at best unless you make use of a reliable DNA test.
Unless your mixed breed is a “designer breed” like one of the many varieties of Doodles, there was probably no witness to the breeding. That means that your mixed breed was labeled as being a “something/something” by a person, based solely on their appearance or physical traits. Unfortunately, that is not a very accurate way to determine a mix of breeds.
In 2012, a study3, 4 was initiated to “…determine the accuracy of visual breed identification compared to DNA breed profiles.” The study looked at 100 shelter dogs. Photos of the dogs were reviewed by “Self-identified “dog experts,” including breeders, exhibitors, trainers, groomers, behaviorists, rescuers, shelter staff, veterinarians, and veterinary technicians…” Their identification of the breed mix of each dog in the photo was compared to a DNA test of that dog. The results indicated “Respondents correctly identified a prominent breed an average of 27% of the time. Each of the dogs had an average of 53 different predominant breeds selected. No one correctly identified a breed for 6% of the dogs, and 22% of the dogs had the correct breed chosen less than 1% of the time. Only 15% of the dogs were correctly identified more than 70% of the time. These results indicate that, regardless of profession, visual identification of the breeds of dogs with unknown heritage is poor.” [Emphasis added] In other words, mixed breed dogs in shelters or rescues are misidentified more often than not.
My dog Muppy was labeled as a Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix when we adopted her. She certainly looks like a Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix, and we love her just as she is, but we decided to do a DNA test just to learn more. The Mars Wisdom Panel reports that Muppy’s DNA indicates that she is 37%, Cocker Spaniel. The test was not able to identify other specific breeds in her lineage but does suggest that the next largest component comes from the Terrier group. Muppy has DNA from what the Mars Wisdom Panel defines as the Middle East and African group which contains breeds such as the Afghan Hound, Basenji, Saluki, and Rhodesian Ridgeback. Lastly, according to the test, she contains some DNA from the Herding group.
We decided to do a second test, this one by Embark, which many consider to be more definitive. The Embark test reports that Muppy is: 44.7% Cocker Spaniel, 30.0% Rat Terrier, 12.2% Boston Terrier, and 13.1% SuperMutt. The latter is a category where Embark lumps together other DNA evidence that suggests Muppy may have small amounts of DNA from other distant ancestors, in her case: the American Eskimo Dog, Bearded Collie, and Collie.
FMI – Muppy’s Embark results – embk.me/muppy
No identifiable DNA was found in Muppy that would suggest that she is part Golden Retriever, Both tests indicate she is predominantly Cocker Spaniel and terrier. I suspect the Golden Retriever came into play when she was in rescue. When Muppy was rescued, she was pregnant. I have seen photos of her puppies and photos of two of those puppies as adults, and her offspring most definitely look like Golden Retrievers. It is quite possible that the father of Muppy’s pups was a Golden or a golden mix. However, the point is, judging by appearance only is highly inaccurate and Muppy is a prime example of how looks can be deceiving. No one labeled her as part terrier based on her appearance, yet both tests suggest a significant amount of terrier DNA.
From a behavioral perspective, Muppy shows several traits from her Cocker Spaniel lineage; she is very into birds; she points, and she retrieves. She also knows how to use her nose, and does so more than any other dog I have owned. I do not know if that trait is because of her DNA or is a behavior that was learned in order to survive as a stray. Muppy has been very easy to train, which could be due to her Sporting Group genes or her Herding DNA, or both. I do not see any Terrier behavioral characteristics.
Some would argue that future behavior is all about the environment and the way a dog is raised. Environment certainly plays a tremendous role in a dog’s temperament but so do genetics, and we cannot change genetics. If you want the best possible companion that meets your criteria of “the perfect dog,” then spend some time researching the breeds before you get your dog.
2 Most Popular Dog Breeds – Full Ranking List – http://www.akc.org/content/news/articles/most-popular-dog-breeds-full-ranking-list/
3 Dog Breed Identification: What kind of dog is that? – http://sheltermedicine.vetmed.ufl.edu/library/research-studies/current-studies/dog-breeds/
4 What kind or dog is that? Accuracy of dog breed assessment by canine stakeholders – https://vetmed-maddie.sites.medinfo.ufl.edu/files/2012/05/2012-Croy-Maddies-Shelter-Medicine-Confernce-Abstract.pdf
Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)
Does My Dogs Breed Matter? – Part 1 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/07/29/does-my-dogs-breed-matter-part-1-the-herding-and-hound-groups/
Does My Dogs Breed Matter? – Part 2 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/08/02/does-my-dogs-breed-matter-part-2-the-sporting-non-sporting-terrier-and-toy-groups/
Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Family – http://bit.ly/FindingTheRightDogForYou
How to choose a dog trainer – http://bit.ly/ChoosingADogTrainer
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.
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